Demographics, technology changing the face of Alberta's workforce

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A BMW employee works in an area optimized for older workers at the company’s plant in Dingolfing, Germany, in this 2012 file photo.

Guenter Schiffmann / Bloomberg

The country’s businesses must deal with an aging workforce and growing technology requirements to stay competitive, the Business Development Bank of Canada says.

A survey the bank released Monday indicated labour force growth is projected to shrink to nearly zero over the next decade, and most firms are taking steps such as offering more flexible working arrangements and relying on older staff to ensure they can find qualified employees.

Alberta’s workforce is expected to grow by 1.2 per cent annually to 2027, the highest rate in the country, because of the large number of young families, but in most of Canada the search for ways to get tasks done will be crucial, bank chief economist Pierre Cleroux said.

“In large cities, if you invest in technology you might reduce the need for workers, especially for low-skilled workers. For example, we’re going to see more and more robots at cash registers in large stores. I think technology is really going to help.”

Smaller centres will be at an increasing economic disadvantage if they don’t focus on retaining young people and attracting residents, because the newcomers who will make up much of Canada’s population growth overwhelmingly settle in a few urban centres, Cleroux said.

Companies should consider such moves as boosting salaries and benefits, investing in training, partnering with schools and reaching out to immigrant communities to fill their staffing needs, according to the survey, released in conjunction with Small Business Week.

More than one-quarter of the 1,400 business leaders contacted in June and July for the online survey said the digital economy has already changed the way they operate, and about one-third have embraced digital technologies that boosted revenue growth and cut costs.

The results are considered accurate within 2.6 percentage points.

However, digital technology isn’t as common among small firms — less than one-quarter of companies with fewer than 20 employees use e-commerce platforms.

Canadian companies have also been slower to embrace automation than their counterparts in many other developed countries, even though the investment is needed to remain competitive.

Such changes will make most people wealthier in the long run, Cleroux said.

“Increased technology will increase the standard of living by doing work more efficiently. You need more people with more skills. They will make more money. The challenge is to help low-skill people to reposition themselves. They’re the ones that are going to be left behind.”

gkent@postmedia.com

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October 18, 2017 |

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